Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids – artificial men and women – have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for “the other.” When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thus, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at C-3PO.
C-3PO is a mechanical man in the Star Wars story-world. As the character comes from such an immense franchise of stories, we could never analyze his entire character in a single article, but we can touch on his central themes and purposes.
C-3PO is a protocol droid, and is not unique in the galaxy. Several other protocol droids are seen throughout the Star Wars stories, but they are all apparently less autonomous than C-3PO. This seems to be explained by his incidental reconstruction with a variety of improvised parts – which may have been the cause of the dramatic change.
Before that, however, he was just a standard issue protocol droid, the purpose of which is to help with political discussions and negotiations of all kinds by serving as an advisor and translator.
The canon stories don’t describe why he was junked after 80 years of service, but it was then, on the streets of Tatooine, that the droid was found, rebuilt with spare parts from a junk-yard, and recommissioned as a servant for young Anakin Skywalker’s mother.
It was 12 years before he left Tatooine, but after he did, he was at the center of the political turmoil of the galaxy for many years, due to the activities of his various owners.
When his mother passed, Anakin took back ownership of C-3PO, though he mostly assigned the droid to accompany his future wife, Amidala in her own political adventures.
After the wedding, Anakin gave the droid to his wife, whom he served until her death, at which point his ownership fell to fellow senator Bail Organa.
During this time, the droid fell to many temporary ‘owners’, while lost on a series of space adventures. However, he eventually returned to the Organa household to become the property of Leah Organa, who was secretly the biological daughter of Anakin and Amidala, whom Bail had adopted as his own to raise.
Many of his most important and vital roles to the New Republic were carried out during this time with Leah, and it is unknown in the canon if there was ever a time in her life when he did not serve her and her brother Luke Skywalker.
On many occasions through the turmoil of the galaxy, C-3PO was instrumental in translating for dignitaries, but also in diplomatically defusing dangerous situations, and being surprisingly supportive and crafty in support of his owners’ wishes. Unlike almost all other androids in the galaxy, C-3PO is able to show a level of independence of thought and action at sentient levels. He is capable of understanding friendship, loyalty, and diplomacy better than most of the human characters in the franchise.
He also serves, literarily, as a foil to the other central mechanical character in the franchise, R2-D2. R2-D2 is an “astromech droid” (in Star Wars canon, all robots are ‘droids, even if they’re not technically androids), though it’s not technically an android, since it doesn’t take on the form or behavior of a man).
The two machines become friends, and form an interesting interdependent relationship, and R2-D2 depends on C-3PO to translate for him to the rest of the characters (other than the Skywalkers), and C-3PO seems to rely on R2-D2’s unassuming and non-judgmental companionship, since the other character usually see him simply as a Protocol Droid, at one point even erasing huge swaths of his memories in the fear that he will be unable to keep important secrets.
Strangely, C-3PO is neither a Pinocchio nor a Galatea. Despite his apparent sentience, he seems perfectly happy to be thought of and treated as a machine, and he revels in his occasional mechanical upgrades.
Perhaps this is because he already seems so human, and thus has no need for more humanity. His own personal struggle instead comes from his cowardice, due to a strong fear of ‘death’ and disassembly. In the original film trilogy, he even plays the part of the comic-relief buffoon, who seems to lend assistance mostly by accident, when he is helpful at all. In the prequel trilogy, he is more serious and competent, perhaps because of his recent reassembly. The buffoon role in those films is taken over by Jar Jar Binks, a much derided character.
Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be Pinocchio. If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.